It is always distressing to see the senseless human tragedy that is caused by a reckless motorist who runs amok for no apparent reason. In those rare occurrences, the motor vehicle may become as dangerous a weapon as a rapid-fire gun. The perpetrator can run up a toll of many persons injured and even killed. That is what happened in a fatal accident that occurred in New York City on Thanksgiving evening.
An apparently crazed motorist driving a Mercedes-Benz injured 11 persons and killed a retired female police officer. The 24-year-old male crashed into a car at a red light in Brooklyn and careened into a 56-year-old retired officer who was trying to get into her minivan. After that collision, the driver sped away and crashed into the rear of another vehicle, causing a chain reaction that affected two other cars, according to police.
The driver then reportedly got out of his mangled vehicle and ran down the street, where he attempted to pull a driver out of a car so that he could steal it. Responders chased him on foot, however, and apprehended him shortly thereafter. The suspect later tried to grab the guns of two officers who took him to a hospital to treat his injuries.
He was charged with manslaughter and other offenses. Police reported that he was negative for drugs or alcohol, but according to his defense counsel, he had a psychotic break recently. He had reportedly been released from a hospital without medication for his condition. In any event, the estate of the deceased officer has a right to bring a wrongful death claim against the apparently reckless perpetrator.
Additionally, the injured persons each have a claim for compensation. Those claims are independent of the criminal charges and do not depend on the defendant being found guilty of the charges. Civil claims for damages from the fatal accident are based on negligence under New York law. However, the seemingly reckless and wanton behavior of the driver may warrant an award of punitive damages to the estate of the decedent, and possibly to other victims.
Source: The New York Times, “Driver Charged in Death of Retired Police Officer on Thanksgiving in Brooklyn“, Rick Rojas and Benjamin Mueller, Nov. 28, 2015